There’s nothing miraculous about the fact there’s something rather than nothing
Einstein once said that what really interested him wasn’t whether or not God had created the universe, but whether He had a choice. Whatever Einstein meant by God, obviously, if He had no choice even when it came to His best known accomplishment, He’s at best just another player in the universe’s long story: perhaps little more than the glorified owner of a very large construction firm hired by the laws of nature to follow its blueprints.
This isn’t an essay regarding the actual existence of a god(s), as hard as that may be to believe at times. It is an essay that questions the necessity of a deity to make sense of the universe and our place within it. It is my contention that any sort of prime mover we place at the beginning of our cosmological story will necessarily raise far more questions than it purports to answer, muddying the waters in the process rather than clarifying them. This would be equally true whether such a god actually existed or not. Therefore, the concept of a deity, at least the monotheistic variety typically depicted as the omnipotent creator of everything outside itself, can best be described as something of an intellectual nuisance.
The primary function a deity plays, especially in the Abrahamic religions, is to kick things off. Even when it is conceded by theists that the Big Bang was the first spectacular event in our 15 billion year long drama, give or take a couple of billion years, God is still offered as the entity that pushed the button setting off the singularity dynamite.
What came before God? Who or what wound God up and made Him tick? Well, nothing, of course. God is eternal. He’s the “alpha and omega” of it all. The universe was created ex nihilo: however confusing that necessarily is given that God was supposedly around (something), even if utterly alone without so much as a single atom, let alone singularity, to keep Him company.
Unfortunately for theists, all these claims about God tell us absolutely nothing. That’s as true from a scientific perspective as it is a philosophical one. They are the descriptive equivalent of telling a child the sky is blue because it’s always been that way. A child internalizing this answer could very well be in danger of having even less understanding of the sky’s blueness than he or she had before hearing this. That theologians and too many philosophers still advance such arguments in one form or another with straight faces is, frankly, shameful. They know, or at least should know, better.
But even if we are willing to set aside theism’s complete failure to illuminate any of the questions we still have (or likely will ever have) about the way our universe came into existence or why it functions the way it does, there is another issue to contend with. Putting a god at the beginning begs even more questions than a posture either of agnosticism or atheism could ever dream of doing.
Take, for example, the fact (and it is a fact) that any being or beings capable of intentionally creating a universe, let alone having a plan for it that spans billions of years, must necessarily exist in a realm that is at least as complex as our own. There is simply no good reason for someone to express discomfort with the idea of a universe as awe inspiring as ours existing without a creator, while simultaneously expressing perfect ease with the idea that an even more incredible intelligent designer(s) existed prior to it. If a consciousness powerful and sophisticated enough to create the universe can exist without any intelligent designer being needed to create Him, surely the universe can as well. After all, the universe started out as just a bunch of simple hydrogen atoms. The creator, on the other hand, knew everything there was to know about everything that had so far never existed. Which of those sounds more plausible to you?
The creator of the universe doesn’t just get a free pass when it comes to His origins, however. He also doesn’t require a purpose independent of just existing. After all, who or what could possibly create purpose and meaning for the source of all purpose and meaning? Put another way, theists must logically grant God the absence of any and all inherent meaning. Yet materialists receive no end of grief from theists when they argue the universe lacks any inherent meaning. These same theists will likewise often accuse humanists of hubris for arguing that, in a world lacking any inherent meaning, people must create the meaning their life demands. Humanity, in other words, is condemned for being godlike by the very people holding God up as the highest standard.
So, if in either case (the godless universe or the intelligently designed one) something rather than nothing is what we end up with, and meaninglessness rather than meaning is all we find at the end of our searching, what does a something called “God” offer by way of either explanation or purpose that a something emerging through the known laws of nature doesn’t? In the interest of getting along at Thanksgiving dinner or during water cooler conversations at work we may give most lay people of faith a pass here, but professional theologians and some contemporary philosophers shouldn’t continue to get away with ignoring the undeniable problems that lie at the heart of their assertions.
The vast majority of serious thinkers these days have little to no problem saying that beyond the Big Bang humanity faces a huge cosmic question mark. Religion, on the other hand, ASSERTS a god(s) in an attempt to erase this troublesome punctuation, while refusing to coherently explain how this move solves anything. By pushing the boundary of the unknown from an incredibly powerful if ultimately simple singularity to an internally self-sufficient being somehow endowed with all there is to know about that which will never exist until He creates it, we go from looking at a massive question mark to looking into a unnavigable miasma of contradictions and logical impossibilities. It’s hard to imagine a serious philosopher or scientist who finds that helpful.
All its incomprehensibility and self contradiction not withstanding, most of us intuitively understand the appeal of the theistic argument in spite of its obviously unsolvable problems. A question mark forever looming just beyond the furthest reach of our gaze none-the-less casts a huge shadow. As our instruments continue to move the limits of our vision further into the universe, humanity’s place in it diminishes more and more with each passing day. It’s all a bit unnerving for a species that until just a couple of centuries ago was pretty firmly convinced it stood at the pinnacle of creation.
The whole of theology, in regard to hell no less than to heaven, takes it for granted that Man is what is of most importance in the Universe of created beings. Since all theologians are men, this postulate has met with little opposition. ~ Bertrand Russell
Theism keeps us on that pinnacle. But as our understanding of the natural world extends across billions of light years, the intellectual price theism charges to keep us there is threatening to bankrupt those still willing to pay. At this point, the so called “god of the gaps” is nothing more than fraying emotional duct tape for a species pining for the days when the chimera of uniqueness was still possible to sincerely believe in.
The anxiety, fear and confusion that our rather sudden dislocation has triggered not withstanding, the universe isn’t in any danger of falling apart. Not any time soon at any rate. Even if we’re struggling to hold ourselves together, the cosmos doesn’t require any metaphorical duct tape. If we start ripping off the centuries worth we’ve wrapped around our minds, reality won’t change. Only our perception of it will — and it will be much clearer.